RIYADH – Sergey Kovalev may be forced to face up to the end of his career after losing over 10 rounds to Robin Sirwan Safar in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

At his peak he was a fearsome light heavyweight, but that peak came a decade ago and in his second fight at cruiserweight – and his first fight for two years – he consistently struggled to impose himself until being knocked down in the final round and watching Sweden’s Safar awarded deserved scores of 97-92, 99-90 and 95-94.

The Russian, 41, had fought and won only once since being stopped by Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2019, and it consistently showed. That the 31-year-old Safar, the naturally bigger fighter, succeeded to Kovalev’s body in the opening rounds provided a reminder of the threat posed to Kovalev, who beyond occasional accurate jabs struggled to establish his timing.

Safar swiftly grew unconcerned about the power with which Kovalev was once so convincing, and to the extent that there were times Kovalev threw punches that once would have hurt opponents but when Safar instead continued to attack.

Safar hurt him towards the conclusion of the ninth, and Kovalev continued to absorb punishment – determined to hear the final bell – throughout the 10th until the powerful right hook that dropped him. Kovalev rose to his feet before the 10th round concluded, but knew a unanimous decision would be announced. 

David Nyika had by then stopped Michael Seitz inside four rounds in another cruiserweight contest, also at the Kingdom Arena.

At light heavyweight there was a first-round stoppage victory for Daniel Lapin, over Octavio Pudivitr, and at featherweight a 10-round decision victory for Tyson Fury’s friend Isaac Lowe, via one score of 97-92, over Hasibullah Ahmadi.